Changing for the better, one bite and (deep) breath at a time.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Crockpot Pomegranate Chicken

I love following food bloggers and Facebookers.  One day, I will actually edit my photos and blog every other day like these amazingly creative people do.  Until then, I read through their recipes with awe, loving the food art they bring to life in a digital format for all of us to enjoy.  One favorite FB page of mine is Hot Dishes for Hot Bitches.  (You may find the title offensive, but I think it's empowering...and funny.)  They recently featured a Slow Cooker Pomegranate Chicken recipe from SkinnyMs. on their page that looked especially appetizing, so I decided to give it a go.

Pomegranates have long been known as a super food.  Pomegranate has been studied for its anti-cancer properties and has been shown to destroy breast, lung, and prostate cancer cells in mice.  It may protect cartilage and arteries, lower blood pressure, and bring down cholesterol levels.  Research also suggests that drinking pomegranate juice may protect against dental plaque formation.  I usually use pomegranate seeds in salads, so I was excited to try this pretty simple recipe.  In fact, all I had to buy was chicken and pomegranate juice - everything else was already in my pantry.

Cooking with 100% juice is a great way to impart flavor to a dish while sneaking in key nutrients.  Of course, whole fruit is always best if choosing between fruit and fruit juice, but fruit juice can have its place in the kitchen.  Look for 100% juice with no additives.  If choosing juice made from fruits on the Dirty Dozen list, such as apple or berry juice, opt for organic. 

For another awesome dish using fruit juice, check out my Cider-glazed Chicken with Browned Butter Pecan Rice.  I made it again last week for my husband, and he said it was one of the best things I had ever made.  I aim to please around here!

Y'all know my obsession with crockpots.  This recipe is great if you have the option to come home at work or if you make it on a weekend day, since it only cooks for 4-6 hours.   According to the husband, this was "incredibly tender and flavor rich."  We didn't even need knives to cut it! 

Crockpot Pomegranate Chicken (adapted from this recipe)


4 chicken breasts, boneless, skinless (1.5 – 2 lbs) - I used organic boneless chicken thighs
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Kosher or sea salt to taste
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Whole Grain Mustard with Garlic (Dijon will work if whole grain mustard isn’t available)
2 tablespoons honey
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups pomegranate juice, (no sugar added)


In a small mixing bowl combine all the herbs and spices.

Whisk together in a large mixing bowl half of the herb and spice mix and the extra virgin olive oil.

Rinse chicken, pat dry with a paper towel. Coat chicken with the herb and oil mixture, place in the slow-cooker.  Note: this method of rubbing olive oil on the chicken before adding to the slow-cooker helps to seal in the moisture.

Whisk together in a medium mixing bowl the remaining herb and spice mix, whole grain mustard, honey, minced garlic and pomegranate juice, pour over chicken.

Turn slow-cooker to low and cook 4 hours on high or 6 hours on low.  I had 6 hours to spare before dinner, so I did mine on low.

After chicken is done remove from the slow-cooker, place on a serving platter and drizzle with remaining liquid. This extra moist chicken pairs nicely with a small side of (whole grain) pasta, brown rice, or quinoa, plus plenty of fall veggies.  I sprinkled fresh pomegranates on top for a bit of color/texture and paired with a strawberry and goat cheese salad plus oven-roasted carrots and broccoli.  Yum!


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Choosing the Right Energy Bar

As most of y'all know, I'm a big fan of eating whole, real foods as often as we can.  Real food provides a mixture of macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrate) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals), offers energy, and satisfies our hunger.  Sometimes, however, we need something to grab on the go that will keep us sated until the next meal or will fuel a workout.  Enter energy bars.  

I rely on certain energy bars as snacks or even as parts of meals if I'm pressed for time, and they offer ease and convenience that I often need while running from one job to the next.  Not all energy bars are created equal, however, so I want to offer some recommendations that you can use when shopping for your next favorite snack.  

I usually recommend energy bars as snacks and not entire meals, but if you are using an energy bar to replace a meal I recommend pairing it with additional foods, such as a piece of fruit and some sliced organic cheese.

#1 Check the ingredient list.

Most people check calories or fiber in their bar, but the first place I teach my clients to look is the ingredient list.  It doesn't matter if your bar is a good source of protein if it's also full of artificial ingredients and fake chemicals.  I usually recommend fruit and nut-based bars such as Lara brand because they are made up of very simple, real ingredients: nut, fruit and spices.  (In fact, you could make your own at home with a good food processor.)

Watch out for lots of added sugars (key words: syrup, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, fructose, honey, etc.), artificial sweeteners (sucralose, acesulfame K, saccharin, aspartame), and partially hydrogenated oils.  Also be wary of soy and vegetable oils, as these are more inflammatory and usually made with genetically modified crop.  (Most soy grown in the US is GMO.)

The first three ingredients listed on a label make up the majority of any food or beverage product.  Thus, if your bar contains a sugar derivative first, it's as if you're eating a candy bar.

Let's take a few of the most popular bars as an example.  Here is the ingredient list for a Luna bar (caramel nut brownie flavor):

LunaPro ® (Cocoa Soy Rice Crisps [Soy Protein Isolate, Organic Rice Flour, Organic Alkalized Cocoa, Alkalized Cocoa], Organic Soy Protein, Organic Flaxmeal), Organic Brown Rice Syrup, Caramel (Organic Dried Cane Syrup, Organic Brown Rice Syrup, Organic Cane Syrup, Cocoa Butter, Water, Soy Protein Concentrate, Natural Flavors, Salt, Organic Soy Lecithin), Coating (Organic Dried Cane Syrup, Organic Cocoa, Palm Kernel Oil, Organic Palm Kernel Oil, Organic Soy Lecithin, Organic Vanilla), Organic Chocolate Chips (Organic Dried Cane Syrup, Organic Unsweetened Chocolate, Organic Cocoa Butter, Soy Lecithin,Natural Flavors), Walnuts, Inulin (Chicory Extract) (Chicory Extract), Vegetable Glycerin, Organic Unsweetened Chocolate, Organic Cocoa, Organic Alkalized Cocoa, Organic Chocolate Flavor, Organic Sunflower Oil, Sea Salt, Natural Flavor.

Notice the large amounts of soy, including soy protein isolate, regular soy protein, soy protein concentrate, and soy lecithin?  Yup, lots of processed soy, only one of which is organic.  That means that other soy derivatives are likely genetically modified (GMOs).  My recommendation?  Skip these bars.

Now, let's look at Clif bar (carrot cake flavor):

Organic Brown Rice Syrup, ClifPro® (Soy Rice Crisps [Soy Protein Isolate, Rice Flour, Rice Starch, Barley Malt Extract], Organic Roasted Soybeans, Organic Soy Flour), Organic Rolled Oats, Organic Cane Syrup, Organic Dried Apples, ClifCrunch® (Apple Fiber, Organic Oat Fiber, Inulin [Chicory Extract], Organic Milled Flaxseed, Psyllium), Soy White Chocolate (Organic Dried Cane Syrup, Cocoa Butter, Soy Flour, Soy Lecithin, Vanilla Extract),Organic Soy Butter (Organic Roasted Soybeans, Organic Soybean Oil, Salt), Dried Carrots, Raisins, Coconut, Sea Salt, Natural Flavors, Spices (Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Cloves).

Again, lots of soy here, and the first ingredient is syrup (sugar). I recommend skipping this one.

Here's my favorite bar, Lara (peanut butter cookie flavor):

Peanuts, dates, salt.

In my opinion, Lara is one of the best products because it's affordable (as cheap as $1 a
bar), made up of simple ingredients, and great tasting. By the way, granola bars are usually not a very satisfying option because they're often high in sugar and very low in protein

#2 Consider your protein source.

Protein is an important component of energy bars for many consumers, especially those who weight train.  Protein is imperative for all of us because it helps build muscle mass, maintains blood sugar, and keeps us feeling satisfied.  Unfortunately, the most popular snack bars on store shelves today are filled with protein isolate (read = highly processed) products to boost protein content.  Otherwise, there would be no way to add protein content in a bar form.  Whey and soy protein are the most popular sources, though some also contain rice protein.  Whole food-based bars usually obtain protein from nuts and seeds.  I recommend avoiding soy isolate at all costs because of soy's influence on the thyroid and its potential to act as an endocrine disruptor.  If you are choosing a bar with a protein isolate, opt for rice protein first, then organic whey protein second if possible.  

A last note on protein: while it is important to have protein in an energy bar, the amount you need varies.  If you're opting for a snack replacement, 4-6 grams is sufficient (though more is OK too).  For post-workout or as part of a meal, reach for a bar that has a bit more (8-15 grams).  Bars with 20-35 grams of protein are usually chalky tasting and don't provide too much added benefit if you're getting sufficient protein through regular meals.

#3 Choose something you enjoy, and pay attention while you eat it.

It's not worth eating an energy bar if you have to choke it down.  You won't feel satisfied if you're not actually enjoying your snack.  There are so many great brands that fit the "real ingredient" guideline and also taste great that with some taste testing, hopefully you will find one that you really like.  Try a few different flavors to see what really floats your (bar) boat.

As you eat your bar, try to be mindful.  Take a deep breath in.  Smell what you're eating, and connect to how your body is feeling.  When we involve our senses and our attention, we are much more likely to feel satisfied after eating.  We also digest the food better.


In summary, when looking for a bar, aim for the following:
- Real ingredients
- Non-soy protein
- Good, satisfying taste

Without focusing too much on numbers, here's what I usually recommend to confirm on the label:

150-250 calories (more if using as part of a meal)
4+ grams of protein
3+ grams of fat
3+ grams of fiber

My favorite brands:

Most of these bars can be found at Whole Foods and Sprouts, and some (especially Lara) are stocked by regular grocery stores and Trader Joe's.  

Lara bar - peanut butter cookie and coconut creme pie are my personal favorites, but my husband digs lemon and apple pie.

Zing bar - higher in protein; choose rice protein-based options.  I am a big fan of the cookie dough flavor.

Pure bar - try dark chocolate brownie.  It's organic as well.

Barre bar - haven't tried these, but I'm intrigued!  Made by dancers, 7 g protein.  Order online.

Raw Revolution bar - higher in calories, but also higher in protein and fiber.  All raw ingredients.  Great as a meal replacement when paired with fruit when you're on the run.

If you wanted to be adventurous and make your own bars, here are a few recipes:

Nourishing Protein Bar

Homemade Lara Bars, 4 Ways (Including Nut-free)

Ultimate Energy Bar - made with beans!

Many companies and products are popping up every week, so check your local stores!  What real food bars do you like?



Sunday, September 2, 2012

Slow Cooker Pot Roast

Fall is here!  Well, not exactly, but now that it's September we can start burning our pumpkin spice candles and making more cool-weather recipes.  After suffering through a summer (and morning sickness) filled with 100+ degrees heat with sporadic humidity, I welcome the change with open arms. 

I made this delicious pot roast recipe adapted from Crepes of Wrath a few weeks ago and am starting to crave it again!  It is a great option for a Sunday night meal, especially since it cooks throughout the day and quickly fills your house with a delicious, comforting smell.  I recommend that you use your extra time saved by not slaving away in the kitchen by catching up on Breaking Bad.  Or Dexter.  Or True Blood...but that's just my opinion.

I like this recipe because it is made with real, minimally processed ingredients.  It contains canned tomato paste, but unlike a lot of other slow cooker pot roast recipes, it is made of the real deal (read: no onion soup mix here!).

One recommendation: only make this recipe if you can keep the temperature on low for 8-10 hours.  If you cook it too hot, it may make the beef less tender.

I use organic ingredients when it matters - animal-based products, dairy, and produce that is more likely to be pesticide-laden when grown conventionally, such as tomatoes.


3-4 lb. (organic, grass-fed) boneless chuck roast
32 oz. organic low sodium beef broth or stock
1 6-oz can organic tomato paste
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 T. honey
2 tsp. smoked (or regular) paprika
3 tsp. allspice
2-3 large sprigs rosemary
3 medium sized carrots, coarsely chopped
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1-2 lb. potatoes, diced (~3 medium potatoes)
Salt and pepper to taste


Spray your crock pot with Pam/cooking spray, rub with butter, or line with a crock pot liner.  Pour the beef stock/broth, tomato paste, vinegar and honey into the crock pot.  Stir in the paprika, allspice, salt and pepper. 

Toss in half the vegetables and place your chuck roast on top of everything.

Toss the rest of the vegetables and stir everything together as best you can, ensuring that the beef is mostly submerged in broth.  Top with rosemary.

Set the crock pot on low and cover.  Let cook for 8-10 hours on low.  If you can, check it every so often and give it a stir, although this is not necessary if you are not home.  Look, yummy!

When ready, move the roast to a cutting board and slice to serve.  Serve with vegetables and broth.  I placed it atop brown rice noodles and served with a fresh green salad.

Veggies, whole grains, sustainable meat and lots of flavor - plus, it's easy!